The Snipe and Purple (sometimes called the Dark Snipe) is a classic North Country spider. North Country spiders aren’t particularly hard to tie, but there are some techniques you can use to help create the classic umbrella shape of the hackle fibers and keep the body neat and trim. This Snipe and Purple is often referred to as a good match for the Iron Blue Dun. The Iron Blue is frequently mentioned in older texts, from numerous Yorkshire anglers to Pennsylvania’s James Leisenring, but you hardly ever hear about it today. I like the Snipe and Purple for small, dark stoneflies and especially midges. I also tie this fly on a 1x short, 2x stout hook, add a gold rib, and fish it for steelhead.
It’s been another one of those steelhead seasons. Call it what you will — slow? Or maybe just a down year. But those years are now coming in bunches. That’s why I’m going with the Great Steelhead Recession. We’re chasing a fish that, in the best of times, is hard-earned. But the last three years have raised the emotional stakes to levels that will test an angler’s resolve. You can see it in the beleaguered eyes of the skunked. Hear the bitter tinge in their words (“Three days. Nothin’.”). The parking lots from Altmar to Pineville bear mute testimony to the current state of the fishery. November 9. Afternoon. Prime time. Three cars in the Ellis Cove lot, one at Lower Sportsman’s, none at the Refrigerator.
But, when you’ve booked a trip, you go. Prepare for the worse. And hope for the best.
I didn’t get a good hook set on the first steelhead. Fresh chrome — that was evident even in the tea-stained waters. But steelheaders live by their drag, and some die by it, like me, who had it screwed down way too tight for that first run. Pop! Stonefly thus liberated from metallic mouth. Hot, burning ownership of blame consumed me. And now I had to live with the thought that that might be my only touch of the day.
Into the seventh hour of fishing. The sun was out now, and I noticed a few whispy midges freeing themselves from their watery prison. Since it was time to change flies, I rummaged around in my box for the smallest, midgeiest, most emergerly fly I could find. There it was. Snipe and Purple, soft hackle, size 10. I’d tied it up years ago, then stuck it into a corner of my fly box. And there it sat, forgotten, waiting patiently for this moment.
I turned to Jim, my guide, and announced, “I’ll bet none of your clients have ever caught a steelhead on a Snipe and Purple soft hackle.”
There comes a time during every drift when the angler decides it’s over. On this particular one, I began to lift the rod just at the moment when the fly would have started swinging up from the bottom. The steelhead had been holding there, perhaps feeding on nymphs, when he saw the bug coming at him suddenly dart toward the surface. He made a decision. I want that.
Jim saw the flash just as I felt the sharp tug. Even has he was saying, “What?!?” I was driving the point of the small wet fly hook home. This time I remembered to set my drag. Multiple runs, two dramatic aerials, then the net. And in the midst of hard times, we were celebrating our newfound wealth.
Sun reflecting off cold, hard cash, not too long from Lake Ontario.
Purple silk, gold rib, and a land bird hackle. That’s the actual fly at lower right. You can find the full article I wrote about these Yorkshire-inspired steelhead patterns here.